Monday, September 28, 2009

Do it for the children (of the revolution)!

Check out the status of the Center for a Stateless Society's 4th quarter fundraiser.

Disclosure: I've got a vested interest here. C4SS pays me to write two columns a week at $25 per piece. I enjoy writing those columns. I also enjoy getting paid to write them. I'd support the Center, and recommend that you support it, even if that wasn't the case, though.

The current C4SS fundraising goal breaks out to about $12k per year. Nobody's getting rich there, but it's some damn good work they're doing, especially for the costs involved. Kevin Carson, Alex R. Knight III and I are all putting out steady "current events" material at newspaper and magazine length, and Kevin's also doing studies of greater length and larger scope.

In terms of word count, we're talking about probably 3-4 "books" per year, freely distributed and presumably to remain available in perpetuity through archiving and external reproduction. And this current fundraiser will expand those activities -- more text pieces and thrice-weekly audio commentaries.

Consider yourself blegged.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Buy now or pay later!

Hat tip -- Eric Dondero.

Here's the text of a note from Tom Barthold, chief of staff to the Joint Committee on Taxation, to US Senator John Ensign (R-NV) [Click here for PDF]:

Dear Senator Ensign,

Sec 7203 of the Code provides that if there is a willful failure to file, pay. maintain appropriate records and the like that the taxpayer may be charged with a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $25,000 and not more than one year in jail.

Thomas A. Barthold

The "Code" in question is the Internal Revenue Code, and Barthold's note was a followup to Ensign's public interrogation of him on the issue of whether or not the IRS would be responsible for enforcing the "individual mandate" in President Barack Obama's health care "reform" plan. Apparently the answer is "yes."

If the IRS enforces the thing, and if failure to comply is prosecuted under the tax code, it gets pretty hard for Obama to argue with a straight face -- as he did last Sunday to George Stephanopoulos -- that the mandate isn't a tax.

Last year, some companies were "too big to fail." This year, apparently, some companies are "big enough to get Washington to sic the IRS and the cops on people who don't want to buy their stuff."

How big does a company have to be to get that kind of sweetheart deal? Will the store ads that arrive in the mail each week eventually come with red letter warnings that a warrant may be issued for your arrest should you fail to take advantage of Wal-Mart's low low prices every day, or to transfer your medical prescriptions to Walgreens? Will we be assessed fines (with jail time for not paying) if we choose to nurse a few more miles out of our clunkers, or ride bikes, instead of ponying up for something new from Detroit every five years?

A liquidator with friends in DC could really clean up on this kind of thing -- buy a warehouse full of Slim Whitman albums, say, then get a two-years-in-stir penalty passed for willful non-possession of "Indian Love Call." It's a matter of personal responsibility! We must each carry our fair share of the yodeling fandom burden! Got yer public option here:

OK, I think we can officially call it a hobbyhorse now

"States' rights," that is. I've been flogging it quite a bit here at KN@PPSTER, and my latest column at the Center for a Stateless Society hits it from an explicitly anarchist angle. Teaser:

While the constitutional argument for "states' rights" is exceedingly weak, the libertarian arguments for it are even weaker. Its advocates claim that because it promotes "decentralization," it enhances freedom -- but that's wrong on at least two counts.

First, "states rights" offers at least as much utility for suppressing freedom as for enhancing it, and historically its successful use has always been anti-freedom in effect.

Secondly, "decentralization" doesn't weaken the state -- quite the opposite, in fact. It strengthens the state by allowing the state's subdivisions to more specifically tailor their policies in ways that maximize their overall power.

Friday, September 25, 2009

About Peckerwood Populism, part 2 of ?

In the first part of this series, I tried to get a working definition of "Peckerwood Populism" into play, and explain that definition a bit. Now I'm going to start riffing on pieces of that definition to flesh it out. I'm going to start with this:

While the average Peckerwood Populist is probably not affiliated with overtly white separatist/supremacist groups, he buys into that stereotype of the voter he's pursuing. He's pitching his product to blue collar white voters. He believes that a successful pitch to that demographic will involve appealing to racism, xenophobia, homophobia and, in certain areas, a twisted sense of cultural heritage -- "the Confederacy was right," "the South will rise again," "America is a Christian nation," "One nation, one language," etc.

I tried to choose my words very carefully, but let me elaborate:

I'm not saying that the average white, blue collar voter is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate.

For that matter, I'm not even necessarily saying that the Peckerwood Populist agitator is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate.

What I am saying is that the Peckerwood Populist agitator believes that the average white, blue collar voter is a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate, and believes that he can get his hooks into the voter by playing on those assumed sentiments. The agitator may believe that because he's a racist, a xenophobe, a homophobe or a neo-Confederate himself and assumes that white, blue collar voters share his views -- or he may just be an opportunist who believes that he can tap into sentiments he doesn't necessarily share for the purpose of raising money and getting votes.

Past flirtations with Peckerwood Populism exploded in the face of Ron Paul's 2008 campaign for the Republican Party's presidential nomination with the "NewsletterGate" scandal. Those flirtations seem to have been of the opportunistic variety. From the linked Reason article:

The most detailed description of the strategy came in an essay Rothbard wrote for the January 1992 Rothbard-Rockwell Report, titled "Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement." ... Rothbard pointed to David Duke and Joseph McCarthy as models for an "Outreach to the Rednecks," which would fashion a broad libertarian/paleoconservative coalition by targeting the disaffected working and middle classes. ... These groups could be mobilized to oppose an expansive state, Rothbard posited, by exposing an "unholy alliance of 'corporate liberal' Big Business and media elites, who, through big government, have privileged and caused to rise up a parasitic Underclass, who, among them all, are looting and oppressing the bulk of the middle and working classes in America." Anyone with doubts about the composition of the "parasitic Underclass" could look to the regular "PC Watch" feature of the Report, in which Rockwell compiled tale after tale of thuggish black men terrifying petite white and Asian women.

This was a very bad idea in so many ways. It was morally repugnant and it didn't work, and if it had worked no sane person would have welcomed the outcome. The thing was going to go one of two ways -- it could fall flat on its face and come back to haunt its architects later, or it could succeed and usher in a new era of, at best, Jim Crow Lite.

It did fall flat, and it did come back to haunt Paul, who had used his newsletters to pursue it. It didn't cost him the presidency or the GOP nomination -- he was never in a position to win either one -- but it certainly embarrassed him and took some wind out of the sails of what was, by early 2008, a "Ron Paul R3VOLution" which looked a lot more like a Rainbow Coalition event than a Klan rally.

Peckerwood Populism's second appearance on the 2008 election stage came not in the form of past scandal but of current effort -- Bob Barr's 2008 presidential campaign on the Libertarian Party's ballot line. The racist, xenophobic and homophobic elements of that campaign were somewhat more subtle than the Ron Paul "NewsletterGate" flap -- often taking "wink, nudge" form -- but they were visibly present.

At the LP's presidential nominating convention in Denver, Barr apologized for his role in authoring the "Defense of Marriage" Act and shepherding it to passage. Less than a week after his nomination, however, he was defending DOMA on "states' rights" grounds -- and asserting that "states' rights is the essence of libertarianism" -- on national television.

When former US Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina died in July of 2008, Barr publicly eulogized him as "one of the finest, most courageous and deeply principled men to ever serve in the United States Congress." Helms's record as a a racist political agitator is just too extensive to go into in an already over-long blog post -- see Wikipedia for the gory details.

When Barr decided to go on the attack versus Ron Paul and hold his own press conference instead of attending the one he'd been invited to and said he'd be at, who did he single out for an excuse? Not the (white) sitting congressman with his own racial perception problem (Paul). Not the (white) Know-Nothing, protectionist, theocrat Baptist minister (Chuck Baldwin). Not even the (white) congenital liar and "consumer advocate" who became rich by manipulating stock prices through his attacks on "big business" (Ralph Nader). None of those. Barr, said campaign spokesman Andrew Davis, "didn’t want to dilute his message by being on the same stage as people like Cynthia McKinney, who is completely opposite of what a Libertarian is" [emphasis mine].

What's Cynthia McKinney "like?" What makes her "the opposite of a Libertarian" in a way that the others are not? According to a Freedom Democrats issues survey, McKinney voted with Ron Paul 80% of the time on civil liberties issues in Congress -- more often than any Republican, and more often by a damn sight than Bob Barr, so it wasn't ideological. It certainly wasn't a matter of stature or of tenure in public office, either -- McKinney had served more terms in the US House than Barr had, and neither Nader nor Baldwin had ever held partisan political office. She was an avowed lefty and the candidate of the Green Party, but Nader is a lefty and had run for president as a Green before, too. She probably wasn't even the best known of the people on stage (Paul and Nader probably both had a name recognition edge on her).

Only two things visibly distinguished McKinney from all others on the stage: She was black and she was female. Wink, nudge.

Over the course of his campaign, it became abundantly clear that Barr's target audience was white southern voters who didn't really want to pull the lever for John McCain, but who under no circumstances would be voting for "someone like" Cynthia McKinney Barack Obama. Wink, nudge.

Barr's campaign never gathered enough momentum for his Peckerwood Populist appeal to become an issue of intense public interest. Any future Libertarian presidential candidate who does manage to attract significant attention, however, will likely be called upon to "explain" that appeal ... and it won't be any prettier in reprise than it was the first time around.

If the Libertarian Party goes for a repeat performance by nominating 2008 vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root -- who carried his own share of the race-baiting load in 2008 and has already begun positioning himself as a "states' rights" candidate for the 2012 cycle -- it will no longer have the luxury of pleading ignorance or of portraying the Barr campaign as an aberration or an isolated incident.

It's certainly possible that Barr's Peckerwood Populist play was an exercise in opportunism rather than an expression of deeply held beliefs on his own part ... but I don't see how that translates into anything like an up side. Peckerwood Populism is an old, degrading hand grenade with the pin already pulled. If you start tossing it around, you can pretty much count on it exploding in your face sooner or later.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

About Peckerwood Populism, part 1 of ?

I've used the term "Peckerwood Populism" a few times now, but haven't offered a coherent explanation of it yet (until I attempted to do so from a standing start last night on OverGround RailRoad). Since I expect to make defeating it a personal priority, I guess it's time to offer more specifics about what I mean when I use the term.

First stab at a definition:

In terms of ideology, Peckerwood Populism is a marriage of libertarianism to "states rights" conservatism. In terms of political strategy, Peckerwood Populism is an attempt to gain support for that marriage by packaging it as a populist appeal with (sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle) evocations of past and present cultural and racial animosities.

The term "peckerwood" seems to have originated as a racial slur used by southern blacks to describe poor southern whites. In the present day, some white separatist/supremacist groups have adopted the woodpecker as a symbol, presumably by way of affirming the stereotype of poor southern whites as themselves racist.

While the average Peckerwood Populist is probably not affiliated with overtly white separatist/supremacist groups, he buys into that stereotype of the voter he's pursuing. He's pitching his product to blue collar white voters. He believes that a successful pitch to that demographic will involve appealing to racism, xenophobia, homophobia and, in certain areas, a twisted sense of cultural heritage -- "the Confederacy was right," "the South will rise again," "America is a Christian nation," "One nation, one language," etc.

The "populist" part of Peckerwood Populism is the construction of a populist class theory. Any populist class theory pits one class (The Righteous Masses) against another (The Power Elites). Peckerwood Populism tells blue collar white voters that they (and, by implication, they alone) are The Righteous Masses, and that their aspirations are being suppressed and put down by a Power Elite composed of politicians who conspire to empower blacks, immigrants, homosexuals, et al at the expense of "the regular guy," i.e. the blue collar white voter -- in bulk, The Righteous Masses.

In terms of pedigree, Peckerwood Populism is a direct descendant of the Dixiecrat movement and of Nixon's "Southern Strategy." As a matter of fact, it's what I had in mind when I referred to Bob Barr's 2008 Libertarian presidential campaign as "Dixiecrat" in approach. There are reasons, however, to coin a new term for the phenomenon.

- The Dixiecrats are fading into history, and we're probably at the point where using the term is as likely to create confusion (or, in some cases, arouse nostalgia) as it is to be understood descriptively. The Dixiecrats' last gasp was probably Barr's glowing eulogy to the late Jesse Helms; Dixiecratism proper was already on its deathbed by the time Trent Lott got himself in trouble by opining that America would be a better place if 1948 Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond had won the presidency.

- The phenomenon is no longer specifically southern. Its center of gravity is moving west and north. Its explicit appeal to racial animosity, while weakening in overall power and becoming less explicit and more implicit, has spread. Its base of potential popular support has been widened by appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment in the border states and anti-homosexual tub-thumping in the "values voters" heartland.

- Over time -- starting in the 60s with George Wallace's presidential campaigns, as a matter of fact -- the Dixiecrat and Southern Strategy phenomena have bled out of the "major" parties and sought refuge in third party political organizations.

A new term is obviously required, and so I've come up with one. Maybe it will stick, maybe it won't, but the phenomenon is real and to the extent that it is analyzed it has to be called something.

My own interests, of course, run to the role of Peckerwood Populism in the Libertarian Party specifically. It is by no means a new phenomenon in the LP. It's always been there, usually as a minority undertone, but gaining in power as former Lester Maddox speechwriter Neal Boortz became an LP poster child and as some libertarian ideologues cast a baleful eye backward on the presidency of Abraham Lincoln as a way of explaining the Republican Party's fundamental corruption (and falling from there into defenses of the Confederacy which often went beyond the justifiable).

Peckerwood Populism became a major force in the LP last year under the auspices of the party's presidential campaign. Bob Barr announced on national television that "states rights is the essence of libertarianism" was one such incident. Vice-presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root gave a race-baiting interview to Reason magazine, an interview almost entirely dedicated to portraying Barack Obama's successes as nothing more than a result of identity politics.

Root is now seeking the Libertarian Party's 2012 nomination, and his current vehicle in that quest is his book The Conscience of a Libertarian: Empowering the Citizen Revolution with God, Guns, Gambling and Tax Cuts. I'm reading that book right now, and will write a full review of it when I've finished it. At 80 pages in, it's hard to tell exactly where Root is going with his message -- on his best day, Root is all over the map ideologically and tends to peg the success of his pitch more on the quality of his personal communication skills than on the actual content -- but the numerous references to "states rights" and self-identification as a "citizen politician" (i.e. one of The Righeous Masses rather than a member of The Power Elite) aren't encouraging.

Whether Root is angling toward a full-blown Peckerwood Populist campaign, or just trying to encompass what he considers Peckerwood Populism's more useful elements into a more expansive package, I can't say for sure. Either way, though, he's playing with some pretty nasty fire -- fire that will ultimately burn the Libertarian Party if it's not put out.

Sittin' downtown at the railway station

I've only been equipped for a short while now, computer- and connection-wise, to watch live "Internet TV," but OverGround RailRoad is definitely one of my favorites. So when Michelle Shinghal called me last week to ask if I'd be a guest, I was happy to say yes.

Due to some pre-show communication problems, I wasn't sure what topics would be addressed, and therefore wasn't as prepared as I would like to have been (the as-usual result there is that I make some verbal stumbles, like saying "black" when I mean "white" or "politicians" when I mean "libertarians," along with more "uhs" and "ums" than I care to admit to). Also, the first part of the interview got pranged before it could be archived. But it was a lot of fun, and I'm hoping to make another appearance there soon. Brighton and Jason are a couple of the coolest hosts I've ever dealt with in any format.

Anyway, for those who are interested, here's the archived video, which starts right in the middle of my lengthy reply to Jason on a question of about "Peckerwood Populism."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NO ONE expects the Klannish Inquisition!

... but it's pretty much a given that American right-wingers are going to be put to The Question sooner or later. Or, more likely, rather than being put to The Question, they're going to simply be accused of having answered "yes" to that question, which leaves them four alternatives: Deny it, defend it, ignore it, or dance around it.

The question/allegation, of course, is "Are you a racist?" / "You are a racist!" And over the last couple of weeks, the guy the question/allegation has been most visibly put to in the right-wing blogosphere is The Other McCain. For a wee bit of background, see here. McCain's latest riposte is here.

At the beginning of this cage match, my natural inclination was to cheer Stacy on. I've met him -- hell, I've spent a couple of days stuffed in a van with him. He's a nice guy, personable, and while I strongly disagree with his notion that a Peckerwood Populism of the Bob Barr / Wayne Allyn Root variety -- a marriage of convenience between libertarianism and "states rights" conservatism -- is either workable or desirable (here's my own brief take on the possibility of a libertarian populism), he didn't strike me as a racist.

The fact that McCain's primary interrogator/accuser is Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs made it easier to assume the righteousness of McCain's cause. If you're not familiar with LGF, try to imagine a massively multi-player online simulation of Saddam Hussein's old Ba'athist regime in Iraq, with Johnson cast as The Leader. He's omnipresent and demands the worship of his subjects. He and his Baghdad Bobs "disappear" internal dissidents, brandish the equivalent of WMD (allegations of racism, for example) at external enemies, and spend a good deal of their time marching up and down the public square in their fancy uniforms. It's a disgusting display, and the temptation is always present to assume that the enemy of LGF is, if not necessarily a friend/comrade, at least worthy of sympathy and support.

And then, of course, there's the whole "cage match" angle. As McCain puts it, "Being Notorious Is Not the Same as Being Famous, But It's Better Than Being Anonymous." He loves a good blogosphere food fight, he can run smack with the best of'em, and his World Wrestling Entertainment®-like approach produced more than a million hits in his first year of blogging, with the smart money on another two million before his second year is done. So, he has an incentive to milk this kind of stuff for every hit it's worth.


In terms of actual content, McCain's response to the question/allegation seems to me to have been of the "dance around it" variety ... and now I notice that that mode of response goes way back to long before the Charles Johnson episode.

Time machine time. First, let us take a giant leap all the way back to 2002, when Michelangelo Signorile, writing in New York Press, attributed the following quote to McCain:

"[T]he media now force interracial images into the public mind and a number of perfectly rational people react to these images with an altogether natural revulsion. The white person who does not mind transacting business with a black bank clerk may yet be averse to accepting the clerk as his sister-in-law, and THIS IS NOT RACISM, no matter what Madison Avenue, Hollywood and Washington tell us."

So far as I can tell, every time McCain is confronted with this alleged quote, things get weird. The venue of said confrontation suddenly turns into a 1950s Jitterbug contest. McCain calls his accusers liars. He invokes the wrath of God. He proclaims his personal righteousness and portrays himself as the long-suffering victim of lesser men. In at least one case -- listen to the MP3 coming up -- he seems to deny that he wrote it ... but not exactly. He certainly denies that he posted it on a web site ("Reclaiming the South") operated by "white separatist" Dennis Wheeler, as Signorile claims, but at least one variant of the allegation claims that while he didn't post it, he did in fact write it (in a "private" email discussion which Wheeler re-posted to the site).

Fast-forward to 2006 and a phone call from McCain to the Alan Colmes radio show [hat tip and file hotlink -- John Amato at Crooks & Liars]:

You know, I never in my life imagined myself calling Robert Stacy McCain this, but there's no other word for it: Clintonesque. I mean, WTF, Stacy? In fairness, it does sound like he may have been ambushed when he thought he was calling in to discuss another topic, but the RS McCain I know is pretty quick on his feet.

I'm no Charles Johnson. I don't excommunicate people from my blog for disagreeing with me or failing in their duty of reverence and worship (nor do I believe that anyone would give a damn if I did). Nor am I Torquemada -- if McCain doesn't want to answer my questions, there won't be any tongs, pincers or breakings on wheels.

I am, however, going to quote Stephen from Braveheart in relation to the matter: "The Almighty says quit changing the subject and answer the fuckin' question[s] [or quit styling yourself the victim]." Stacy:

- Did you write that?

- If so, could you -- pretty please with sugar on top -- explain it to the 90% or so of people who would read it as a racist statement, albeit one followed by a statement that it isn't? Put it in its greater context if there is one, for example, or explain that you were quoting someone else by way of disagreeing with them, or whatever?

- If not, could you please explain (to the extent that you may know) who did write it and how it came to be attributed to you by Signorile et. al.?

Inquiring minds want to know, and I mean that. Unlike some others, I'm not leaping to conclusions. I'd like to understand what's going on here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tsk it, tax it, lie if George unmasks it

My latest at the Center for a Stateless Society:

First, the obvious: Yes, the “individual mandate” in ObamaCare as described by the president in his speech to Congress week before last is a tax. It’s a tax with a twist — you can choose whether you pay it to Uncle Sugar directly or to an insurance company on Uncle Sugar’s orders — but you don’t get to decide not to pay it. It’s “a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes” (The Merriam-Webster definition quoted by Stephanopoulos).

The “public purpose” in question is somewhat nebulous, but Obama himself acknowledges that the whole mess isn’t about your health. Rather it’s about making sure that a government program to provide health care to the poor or indigent is neither over-enrolled nor under-funded. The “individual responsibility” he refers to is not responsibility for your own health, but responsibility for making his program “work.”

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Rocket Men: The "Missile Defense" Con Game

That's the title of my latest column at the Center for a Stateless Society. Teaser:

According to Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund — addressing the subject of missile defense on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show Thursday — "President Bush was promoting a technology that doesn’t work against a threat that doesn’t exist."

The policy in question was a plan to place ten “interceptors” in Poland, and a radar installation to control them in the Czech Republic. These interceptors would theoretically (because to date the technology doesn’t work very well) have protected Europe from Iran, had that country launched equally theoretical (because it doesn’t have them) long-range missiles.

So far, so good — except that the Obama administration’s proposed alternative, at least nominally supported by Mr. Cirinicione (who advised presidential candidate Barack Obama on "nuclear issues") may be even worse.

Mini-review: WirelessRefill.Com

WirelessRefill.Com/PrePaidOnline.Com has an affiliate program, but this is not an affiliate link, since it seems to go by individual product and I want to point you at the whole site.

I've been a WirelessRefill.Com customer for a couple of years, and have always received good service, good prices (there's a monthly discount code and a "loyalty points" program, both of which shave cents off their prices). If you use pre-paid cellular, there's just no better way to go. It's cheaper (even if you forget to use a discount code -- they don't charge sales taxes or other fees like most meatspace stores do) and you don't have to go out to a store to get a card.

It wasn't until tonight, though, that I realized just how good they are: I dropped by their site to purchase minutes for my (Page Plus Cellular) phone, and instead of getting a PIN by email within a few minutes, I got a phone call within a few minutes -- to verify that I had accidentally ordered the wrong product ($10 applicable toward Page Plus's "unlimited nights and weekends" plan) and fix me up with the right one ($10 worth of straight airtime -- for $9.70 after the discount code) that I've always bought (yes, those are affiliate links).

They could have just filled the order and said "no refunds," and I'd have almost certainly continued shopping with them. It was, after all, my mistake and not theirs. Instead they used a customer service rep's time to follow up on a transaction that didn't look right, and saved me close to $10 by doing so. After that, how could I not recommend them?

Irving Kristol, 1920-2009

In the end Irving Kristol could rightfully claim to have out-done his bête noire, Stalin, by serving as the gravedigger of not one, but two revolutions.

First he helped lead America's Trotskyites out of the wilderness of the revolutionary communist left and into the Democratic, and then Republican, parties as the "neoconservative" movement.

Later, that movement plunged an ice axe into the skull of whatever residual revolutionary libertarian impulse may have remained alive in American conservatism by the Age of Nixon. As Kristol himself wrote in "The Neoconservative Persuasion" --

Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity.

I do not generally rejoice on the occasion of anyone's death. The only thing I find worthy of mourning in the case of Kristol's, however, is the fact that it came far too late. America would likely be a better, freer nation today had he -- and the embryo of his pernicious ideology with him -- fallen in 1944 at Herrlisheim where he served with the 12th Armored Division.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mini-review: Machines at War

I'm not much of a gaming blogger, but there are incentives involved.

I'm also much of a gamer per se -- I generally put a few hours into a game, and then drop it unless it's something I can devote an enjoyable half-hour to now and again.

Machines at War from Isotope 244 fits the bill ... the average session fits into a 30-minute timeframe. It was also one of only a few real-time strategy games I could find that runs in Mac OS X on a PowerPC CPU.

For those of you nearly as backward as I am when it comes to games, "real-time strategy" or RTS is the kind of game where you gather and refine resources, use those resources to build military units, then use those military units to go kick someone else's ass. Blizzard's Warcraft and Starcraft are probably the best-known titles in the genre.

Machines at War is a "modern combat" version of this type of game. The player builds jeeps, tanks and airplanes and dukes it out with up to three other computer-controlled players.

This is where more avid gamers are probably going to balk: There's no multi-player, LAN play or Internet competition. It's a stand-alone game for one player versus the game's artificial intelligence. That doesn't bother me because, as I said, I'm looking for a 30-minute fix, not a time-consuming hobby. It may bother you. If it does, well, there are lots of other games out there.

MAW advertises "support for add on units and landscapes." That support, so far as I can tell, is embodied in instructions on how to hand-edit some of the game's files. There are no cool map editing programs or anything like that in the standard game package (at least for Mac). I haven't played with the idea yet, but may, on a strictly amateur level. I'm hoping to find a fan community out there on the Intarweb that produces, and offers downloads of, files to make the game experience different.

In principle I see no reason why there couldn't be fan-produced mods of the game that play out as "Old West cowboys and Indians," "medieval/feudal warfare," "feuding factions on Mars" or whatever. It's just a matter of creating different units and different landscapes. I also suspect that more varied scenarios could be implemented by swapping around "saved game" files.

In any case, that's my review. The game is available for Mac OS X, Windows XP and Vista, and Windows Mobile. And of course there's a free "try before you buy" demo version.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sotomayor v. corporate personhood?


During arguments in a campaign-finance case, the court's majority conservatives seemed persuaded that corporations have broad First Amendment rights and that recent precedents upholding limits on corporate political spending should be overruled.

But Justice Sotomayor suggested the majority might have it all wrong -- and that instead the court should reconsider the 19th century rulings that first afforded corporations the same rights flesh-and-blood people have.

Judges "created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons," she said. "There could be an argument made that that was the court's error to start with ... [imbuing] a creature of state law with human characteristics."

Not that it's particularly relevant to this case -- the owners of a corporation, its stockholders, severally have the right to free speech and exercising that right in cahoots with one another doesn't diminish it -- but if she's consistent on the matter and can persuade four other justices some time down the road, perhaps the longstanding, pernicious, market-distorting doctrine of "corporate personhood" can be overturned. That would be a mini-revolution in itself!

Who'd have thought that one of Sotomayor's first significant statements as a Supreme Court justice would be a tacit rejection of the court's past judicial activism? And who thinks that "conservatives" won't howl like stuck pigs over it if it gets much play?


I don't usually talk much about my day job here at KN@PPSTER, and when we run a fundraiser over there I usually give it at most a mention here. This one's a bit different and I figure it's a "hit hard, everywhere" situation. So:

Dear readers,

Over the years, we've tried various approaches to fundraising, from quarterly fundraisers with daily "hard sell" pitches to low-key continuous efforts to "subscribing contributor" drives.

We've never met the revenue goal that constitutes "success" in our plan, and have often failed to reach even the more modest goals we've treated as stepping stones toward that milestone.

Another thing we've never done is played the "going out of business" card. Coming up on seven years now, we've kept on plugging, putting RRND and FND up on the web and/or in your mailbox every non-holiday weekday (with the exception of a pre-announced one-week vacation in 2008).

We've done that through months when our gross revenues came to $6. We've done it when I spent two days in emergency rooms, CAT scan machines, etc. thinking I'd had a stroke. We've done it when Steve Trinward was in the hospital after a car crash. We've done it when one or more of our editors were forced offline by storms or power outages. We've done it. Every day.

Folks, I'm playing that "going out of business" card now.

Like everyone else, we've got bills to pay and stomachs to fill. I haven't consulted my fellow editors concerning their personal financial situations at the moment, but I can speak to my own and I can rationally speculate that there are things they'd like, or even need, to do but haven't done because the money hasn't been there.

I have roughly $2500 in personal expenditures that can't be put off any longer (a 50-foot oak tree that has to be cut down unless I want to pay a fine too, and dental work that I'm in the middle of and can't leave unfinished unless I'm willing to go back to living in excruciating pain and looking like a creature out of a cheap horror flick). Based on the percentage of RRND/FND revenues that go to me, that means a $7,000 fundraiser, and it means raising that money in a timely manner.

Based on our web, email and social network readership, $7,000 comes to about $1 per RRND/FND reader. Since this will be the last fundraiser of the year, that breaks down to about 30 cents per reader per month, or about a penny and a half per reader per edition of the newsletter.

If the freedom movement's daily newspaper isn't worth a penny and a half per edition to its readers, then, well, the market has rendered a verdict either on the value of the newsletter or on my marketing skills. Either way, it comes down to me finding other things to do with my time -- things that bring in the money to get trees cut down, teeth fixed, etc.

Will RRND/FND blink out of existence on October 1st if we don't make our goal? No. But unless we receive a substantial infusion of money in the next two weeks, I will go to my fellow editors and propose that we start winding it down, with an eye toward ceasing publication at the end of the year.

So, there it is. Value for value, make or break. Click the "widget" in this article or in the site's sidebar to make it happen, or email me at thomaslknapp at rationalreview dot com if you'd like information on how to send a check, money order, stack of Federal Reserve Notes, etc.

Yours in liberty,
Tom Knapp
Rational Review

PS: To the 200-odd readers who have financially supported RRND/FND in the past -- in large or small amounts, frequently, regularly or occasionally, THANK YOU. As always, this fundraiser is aimed not at you but at the 6,700+ readers who have yet to return value for value.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hokey Pokey, Left and Right Feet Edition

Camera One

ACORN Crackdown: Undercover Investigation Heats Up in Calif.

ACORN Watch: A "Sting"-ing Indictment of Media Hypocrisy

The Latest & Greatest Excuse from ACORN

Those are all headlines over at Townhall.Com, "The Source for Conservative Political News, Cartoons, Issues and Blogs."

Conservatives are making hay with a "sting operation" which exposes ACORN, a lefty "community organizing" group, as its operatives advise a putative prostitute and pimp on how to avoid taxes and fleece the government out of money. Good stuff.

Camera Two

Brief excerpts from an email I received this morning from Town Hall, hawking a "wealth-building" newsletter:

From: Townhall Spotlight
To: "Thomas Knapp"
Subject: Get a "Raise" even if you don't work

Dear Reader,

Thanks to two insiders at Social Security headquarters, and several University studies ...

We have exposed a series of "loopholes" in the Social Security system, which could pay you an extra $1,100 or more per month ... EVERY year you are retired.

We interviewed 70-year-old retiree Jim Roth, who used this loophole to boost his Social Security checks by $1,033 per month. When we met Jim in his hometown, he told us: "It's free money from the government."

* How to slash -- or even eliminate altogether -- the taxes you pay on social security.

Well, at least Town Hall doesn't get federal funding. That I know of.

Emancipate Rifqa Bary!

Does Rifqa Bary fear -- honestly and with good reason -- that her father will kill her for converting from Islam to Christianity?

That's been treated as the central question, both by "child welfare authorities" in Ohio (where she's from) and Florida (where she fled), and by those debating the issue from both religious and secular standpoints.

I don't think it's the central question, at all, though. The central question is whether or not "child welfare authorities" should be involved at all.

Granted, if her fear was real and reasonable, that would be a slam dunk argument against forcibly returning her "home."

And granted, if her fear was unreal or unreasonable and she was, say, four years old, the argument that she should be returned to her innocent parents because she's just too young to be able to be out on her own and making her own decisions would ring true to most people.

She is, however, 17 years old -- mere months away from becoming legally free to go where she listeth, for any reason she damn well pleases, without consulting her parents or anyone else on the matter.

The 18-year line between "minor" and "adult" is an arbitrary legal construct based on no compelling evidence whatsoever. It's just a number drawn, for all intents and purposes, out of a hat. Equally arbitrary are the designation of 16 years to be trusted to careen down the road at high speed in control of a couple of tons of metal, and 21 years to drink a Fat Tire without being arrested. In "the old days," the arbitrary line separating "childhood" from "adulthood" was often set at 13 years. And until very recently, some states set it, for purposes of marriage, as low as 14. Finally, unfortunately, some states now engage in the barbaric practice of designating children far younger than Bary "adults" when a prosecutor wants to punish them for crimes.

Bary is 17. She's already demonstrated that she can make her way from Ohio to Florida without her parents' assistance, and that she can either live on her own or find voluntary sponsors to assist her. The obvious thing to do -- even absent evidence of a murder plot against her, and unless she can be proven incompetent, which seems unlikely -- is to emancipate her and free her to live as an adult a few months early, without reference to any "religious questions" whatsoever.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

(The Other) McCain Agonistes

As you'll see later on in this post, I'm not the one who brought Hitler into the matter at hand. But as long as he's hanging about, I'm going to use him in a hypothetical "alternate history" scenario:

Imagine that for some reason, at some point in World War II, after the death camps were fully cranked up but before D-Day, a negotiated end to hostilities took place. No need to put a bunch of skullwork into why, as that's non-essential to the scenario (if you insist, let's just say that the US never entered the war and that England and the USSR were exhausted and so was Germany). Germany withdrew to its borders. Poland, France, Austria, the Sudetenland, Alsace-Lorraine ... everything returned to status quo ante. Except, of course, for the fact there were a lot of missing Jews, and everyone knew what had happened to them, and part of the truce negotiations was a requirement that the camps be closed down, the survivors freed, etc.

Further, imagine that instead of offing himself in the Führerbunker, Adolf Hitler survived and continued to lead Germany until he turned 60 in 1949, then passed the baton off to Himmler or Goering and got himself elected to the European Parliament in a much earlier EU, serving for a full 40 years until he turned 100 in 1989. Over the years, his attitude toward Europe's remaining Jews was well understood by all around him. He didn't go around screaming "Juden raus!" at people or anything, but his vote could be counted on for anything that he thought might torment Jews, and counted out for anything that he thought might aid them.

Now, imagine if another member of the European Parliament (an Austrian chap by the name of Kurt Waldheim, let's say) congratulated Hitler on his 100th birthday thusly: "When Adolf Hitler attempted to conquer the world and cleanse it of the Jews, we served in the Wehrmacht. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the continent had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either."

End of scenario.

Quoth Robert Stacy Mccain:

I have never been a great admirer of Trent Lott, but when Senate Republicans dumped him for having dared to say nice things about Strom Thurmond -- on the occasion of Thurmond's 100th birthday -- that was like ceding the Sudetenland to Hitler.

And now, a snippet from those "nice things" that Lott had to say:

When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years, either

Just as a history memory jog, here's a summary of Thurmond's presidential campaign platform, in his own words:

I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.

This is the sort of aside from McCain that I'd normally snort at, perhaps issue a snarky retort to in comments, and then write off as part of his patented "feuds make for hits" schtick ... except that it's taking place in the context of a slightly more lively tempest, in a slightly larger teacup, than usual.

Short version: Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs says that Robert Stacy McCain is a racist. McCain says no, he's not. The argument seems to be propagating rapidly across the right-wing blogosphere, mostly to Johnson's disadvantage.

Long version: Too long to even begin to explain here. If you want the original material, try punching the following two searches into Google:

"Robert Stacy McCain"
"Charles Johnson"

One problem to expect in evaluating the material you'll find:

Whatever else anyone may have to say about him, Robert Stacy McCain can write, and I'm not just referring to technical command of the English language (although he does indeed possess that). It might be going a little far to put him in the same league as Hunter S. Thompson and Mark Twain ... but not much too far. The guy knows his craft. He knows how to tell the story his way and make you like it. Which means you're going to want to believe it.

Johnson's polemic, on the other hand, reads like a Usenet posting hacked out by a Randroid who gulped down a bottle of Robitussin® about half an hour ago. He's also got a real cult vibe going at LGF, complete with summary excommunication for questioning His Divine Omniscience, and if you're anything like normal it's going to weird you out. Which means that you're going to want to get the hell out of there before he can attach the brain slug, which means that you're going to want to dismiss his claims.

Consider yourself forewarned that puzzling the whole mess out is going to take some work.

Is McCain a racist?

Last May, I spent somewhere between 26 and 28 hours, in two installments of 13 to 14 hours each, in a crowded van with McCain and a bunch of other guys, at least one of whom was, unless I'm suffering from false memory syndrome, an African-American. I usually have pretty decent antennae for racial animosity, and I've spent more time than I'd rather have around racists of the overt (a cousin who got too radical for the Ku Klux Klan, for example) and subtle (fellow Marines who just didn't seem to like Marines of races other than their own very much) variety. My recollection is that McCain and the African-American gentleman conversed pleasantly, debated a bit, and (again, if my memory isn't going) sat at the same table and broke what passes for bread at McDonald's during one of our gas/food breaks.

Which proves nothing, of course, but it's relevant such as it is, and I don't think it would be honorable to address this matter without mentioning it.

On the other hand, as expounded upon at length in the first part of this post, it takes real brass for McCain -- in a post about the controversy over whether or not he's a racist, no less -- to bring up Trent friggin' Lott's Thurmond Bomb but omit relevant, essential and damning facts about it. WTF is up with that?

What individuals should do

[Note: This is part of an informal "what X should do" series about ObamaCare; I've previously posted on "what President Obama should do" and "what the insurance companies should do"]

To quote Nancy Reagan, "just say no".

Specifically, just say no to this:

[U]nder my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance -- just as most states require you to carry auto insurance. Likewise -- likewise, businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. There will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still can't afford coverage, and 95 percent of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements. But we can't have large businesses and individuals who can afford coverage game the system by avoiding responsibility to themselves or their employees. Improving our health care system only works if everybody does their part.

To forestall immediate descent into partisan Obama bashing, a brief digression: Obama cribbed the "individual mandate" described above from "conservative" Republican Mitt Romney, who signed it into law as governor of Massachusetts and then bragged about / defended it (rather than vetoing it as he did eight other provisions of the law, including an "employer mandate" similar to the one described above) in 2006. So please ... don't try to turn this into a "left/right" thing.

The insurance companies are drooling over this, of course, and their water carriers in Congress from both major parties will support it (while quietly gutting the "unicorns and ice cream for everyone" restrictions on pre-existing condition refusal, payment caps, etc.) if they can get away with supporting it.

So, the first thing to do is let your congresscritter know that (s)he can't get away with supporting it.

The second thing? Obey little, resist much.

It just so happens that I am, at this particular moment, insured. And while I'm glad, at this particular moment, to be insured (I have dental coverage, and that coverage is saving me about $1200 on the mass extraction/denture procedure I'm getting ready for -- for those who have been following the saga, I got the molds made last week and should get the teeth yanked some time in the two to four weeks), I've lived a good part of my life without insurance.

If the proposal described in President Obama's speech is passed and signed into law, I'll be returning to uninsured status ASAP -- and giving anyone who comes calling to collect a fine a close-up look at my middle finger when I hold out my hands for them to put the cuffs on.

Anyone who's in a position to do likewise, should.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"You Lie!"

From my latest at the Center for a Stateless Society:

With apologies to James Goldman: Of course he lies. He always lies. They all lie. It’s 2009 and they’re politicians. ... "You lie!" is almost never a false allegation when directed at a state functionary, at least if that state functionary’s lips are moving. And how could it be any other way? The state is built on a foundation of falsehood -- "you need us!" -- and like all falsehoods, that one requires a cascade, an eternal torrent, of additional lies ("Market failure!" "No new taxes!" "A war to end all wars!") to constantly reinforce it and keep it from falling apart.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Evidence locker

Paint scrapings on TwitpicIf you don't mind too terribly much, leave a comment on this post and mention the photo of paint scrapings.

Yes, I know it's a strange request, so I'll explain myself.

The government which rules the city in which I live sends a bureaucrat around town to do an annual "exterior inspection" in May, then mails residents a list of things they have to do, upon pain of being ticketed and fined if those things are not done by late September. This year, one of those items relating to my home was "scrape and paint garage." (No, it's not Pyongyang, but I have on occasion suggested that a measure be placed on the ballot to so re-name it).

I have scraped. For 3 1/2 hours, in fact, have I scraped.

And I have painted (first coat's on, second later today).

It's an old garage, made of old wood. It looks much better with a new paint job, but paranoid me that I am, I just have this premonition that when the bureaucrat comes back around, he may decide that, in his indispensable professional opinion, it wasn't scraped.

So, I want to be able to prove to some reasonable degree of certainty that it was. Thus the photo (I wish I'd thought to photograph the actual garage after the scraping and before the painting, but I didn't, so a pic of the scrapings will just have to do), the twitpic-ing of said photo, the blog entry, and the request for comments. All of which are or will be, of course, tagged with a date, with four different entities (my cell phone provider, Twitter/Twitpic, Blogger and Haloscan) handling said date-tagging. Also Google's cache, etc. Which should be sufficient to convince any reasonable person that:

a) there was scraping; and

b) the scraping took place on or before today, September 13th, 2009, as opposed to some subsequent date that might fall after the deadline for complying with the regime's demands.

Like I said, I'm paranoid. Also, I'm desperate for blog fodder. Or was, anyway. Not so much now, I guess.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How many people at 9/12?

The "mainstream media" is reporting "tens of thousands."

The ever-so-slightly-off-mainstream-but-not-wild-eyed conservative media reports that "[r]ally leaders estimated the crowd at about 75,000, but others said it was larger than that. Organizers had expected between 25,000 and 50,000."

The flying monkeys say two million, and even claim to know a guy who knows a guy whose sister heard from a friend that someone had read somewhere that various cops said 1.2 to 1.5 million.

That's a bigger spread between "mainstream" and "grassroots" counts than usual, and complicated by the Washington Times citing alleged "rally leaders" as coming out for the low end.

Not being familiar with the layout and capacity of the area, I can't put together a decent estimate from the video and pictures I've seen.


- Based on the aerial photo Malkin credits to Westwood One, I'd say "tens of thousands" is probably lowballing it.

- If I had cared to put out a pre-event estimate of what would constituted "success," that estimate would have been toward the low end of what the MSM is reporting. Even 10,000 would have been significant. Turning out 50,000 people for a conservative event in the District of Columbia is, if not unheard of, at the very least a rare thing. And my gut feeling is that we're looking at more in the range of at least 200-300k, possibly more.

- There's no way to write all of it off to "astro-turf." The number of chartered buses was allegedly 450. Even assuming that every bus was carrying, say, 50 riders, that's only 22,500 people. Most of the signs I've seen in photos and video are homemade. The closest thing to a "core message" is anti-ObamaCare, but even that doesn't seem to dominate. 9/12 appears to have really been a largely grassroots phenomenon.

Good on them for finding their voices. Here's hoping that they don't get completely co-opted by the GOP.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cannibal Care

From my latest at the Center for a Stateless Society:

ObamaCare in brief: Government feeds you to the insurance companies, while simultaneously feeding the insurance companies to you. The state takes home a doggie bag.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bushevik Perp Walk Chronicles: "The Cheney International Center"

They cut the ribbon today.

Why not the Beria Center for Rehabilitation Through Labor? Or the Pol Pot Agricultural Experimentation Facility? Or the Eichmann Memorial Waste Incinerator?

Favorite sons with $3.2 million in Halliburton war graft rake-offs to blow on "legacy building" move to the front of the "name a building after a war criminal" queue, I guess.

Can't hurt to call them on it, though.

Karen de Coster and Linux

Please note up front that I didn't name this article "Karen de Coster versus Linux." There's a reason for that. Following the arc of the thing from her article on PC versus Mac to her Open Letter to Linux Geeks to Jim Davidson's Facebook Note in response to that letter, I don't see that there's really a fight to be picked here.

I do think that she has a view of Linux which I've seen elsewhere. It's a view I had myself for a few years after trying to get Red Hat 7 up and running on an old box and finally throwing up my hands back in, oh, 2003 or so. Back then, Linux was still not ready for "everyday computer user prime time." It was a pain in the ass to install, you had to be ready to leap into the command line interface to tweak it and push it around, the choice of apps was much more limited, and if it got messed up you either figured it out yourself or trolled discussion forums looking for a clue (if you could get online, that is). I resolved to avoid Linux at all costs, and would have stuck to that resolution if a virus hadn't eaten my machine alive at a point in time when I desperately needed a working machine right now and happened to have Mandrake Linux install CDs lying around.

As I've said many times since, things have changed. I've installed every version of Windows up through Vista on PCs over the years. The newer distributions of Linux are easier to install and configure than any Windows version since at least as far back as Windows 98 and possibly Windows 95. They're very stable and there's a very good chance you'll never have to leave the GUI and start messing around with command line stuff in the console. The GUIs I've been using (KDE, JWM, IceWM) are at least as intuitive, as attractive and as functional as Windows or Mac OS. There are multiple decent offerings in every broad applications category, and if you really must have a particular Windows app there's a good chance that you can run it in Linux using Wine. Oh, also: Linux doesn't crash as often, and it's free, and frankly the available user support for it is, in my opinion, very competitive with what's out there for Windows.


That doesn't mean you're a snob if you don't run Linux.

Karen de Coster runs a business, invests a lot of time and effort in writing, and likes to ride (and, if I recall correctly, tinker with) big-ass motorcycles. She's willing to pay a premium, and can afford to pay that premium, for a computer and an operating system that do what she needs them to do without a steep learning curve and/or investment of a lot of time learning their ropes. She wants to run her business, write her essays, and ride her motorcycles, not mess around with her computer.

While I think she's over-estimating the complexity factor with respect to Linux these days, I also think that if I had her priorities and was in her situation, I'd do exactly what she did: Plunk down good money for a Mac and go about my business in the comfortable knowledge that the thing will work and that if it stops working there's a kick-ass support system standing behind it to get it working most ricky-tick and without a bunch of guff.

Over the years I've had to become a very minor league Linux geek -- new Macs are expensive! -- and if Linux distros hadn't improved so rapidly and remarkably, I'd probably have been forced back into Windows hell. Karen de Coster isn't in that position, so the choice she's made is completely understandable (and, of course her choice to make in any case).

As I've mentioned here at KN@PPSTER, I recently had the opportunity to get back into a (used but reasonably modern) Mac myself, and I have to say it's like moving from a decent hotel (indoor pool, continental breakfast) to one of those places with a hot tub in every room and champagne breakfast in bed on demand.

What the insurance companies should do

On Tuesday, I told you what I think President Obama should do if he wants his health care plan passed by Congress. While I certainly can't claim to have his ear, his speech last night was at least a close approximation of what I envisioned in that post.

Don't be surprised when we hear tomorrow or the next day that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are cracking the whip to get every last Democratic vote in line behind Obamacare with the "public option." I'd bet money that the advice he got privately from Rahm Emanuel and his other close advisors was very similar to my public version.

Just like HillaryCare in 1993, ObamaCare in 2009 is a make-or-break deal. He has to gamble big.

If he wins, he won't just get his health care package. He'll run the table through next November's mid-terms, ticking items off his agenda as a disciplined Democratic congressional majority rolls over GOP opposition to get those items done -- and the Democrats will likely maintain their majorities and their momentum all the way into 2012.

If he loses, he won't just be losing on health care. He'll continue to fumble along with a fractious Democratic majority that accomplishes nothing significant through the mid-terms. The Democrats might very well lose their majority in one or both houses of Congress in 2010, and if the GOP puts up a decent presidential candidate in 2012 he might even be a one-term president.

Those are the stakes for Obama.

Here are the stakes for the insurance industry:

Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition. ... it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it the most. ... They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. ... We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses .... And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care ...

In my last post on ObamaCare, I put myself in the shoes of the President of the United States. Now I'm going to put myself in the shoes of the president of an insurance company. If I found myself in that position, I'd be getting my ducks in a row right now -- calling emergency board meetings, working out details with the company's officers, etc. I'd be ready to move the instant it became obvious that this bill was going to pass, and this is what my move would look like:

- I'd inform the company's policyholders that the company is going out of business at the end of the next billing cycle, that their policies will be canceled effective that date, and that they'll need to find coverage elsewhere;

- I'd inform the company's workers that their employment is drawing to an end; and

- I'd inform stockholders that the company's assets are to be liquidated through arranged profitable sale where possible and auction where necessary, and that after the company's debts are settled and liabilities zeroed out, each stockholder will receive a final dividend per share from any remaining monies.

I might or might not send a note to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi. If I did, it would be short and to the point:

Find some other business to run, asshole -- this one's no longer available.

The above is the only honest, reasonable, or even sane response to this nonsense. Unfortunately, I doubt there's a single insurance company president/CEO in the country with the balls to do it -- and I'd bet money that even if there is, his company's board will depose him before he can get within a mile of implementing it.

Instead, the insurance companies will just put their lobbyists to work finding ways to get over as part of the new system. They'll put the screws to us, screaming all the while that it's Obama putting the screws to them from one side of their mouths and telling their secretaries "make one check out to 'Democratic National Committee' and the other to 'Obama 2012'" from the other side. That's how they roll.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What President Obama should do

I don't support any variant of Obamacare that I've heard about (a number of different proposals are apparently floating in and out of different congressional committees). I don't support any "reform" that includes more, rather than less, government involvement in health care. And in point of fact, in broad outline, I just don't support the Obama administration's agenda, period. 90% of it is just plain bad, and the other, decent 10% (closing Gitmo, ending torture and unlawful detention, etc.) went by the wayside in record time once his hand came off the Bible he was sworn in with.

So when I offer him advice on how to either get Obamacare passed in the form he wants, or at least position himself as the underdog on the side of the people and all that, he might want to take it with a grain of salt. But, for whatever it's worth, here's what I'd do if I was President Barack Obama and I wanted the "public option," etc. in the upcoming health "reform" bill:

I'd give my speech tomorrow and make it a barn-burner -- a confrontational demand for the "public option" wrapped in the American flag, wafted to DC on the winds of the highest aspirations of the American people, and so on and so forth.

Immediately after the speech, I'd take Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi into a back room, hand them a draft of the legislation I want passed, and tell them the following:

"You're going to take this legislation back into your offices tomorrow morning -- no, make that tonight -- and you're going to go to work. You're going to call in each and every Democratic Representative and Senator and demand their vote for it, on pain of being stripped of their committee positions and expelled from their house's Democratic caucus should they withhold that vote. No negotiations, no concessions -- this is the legislation, take it or leave it and if they leave it they're done -- not a single Democratic dollar for their re-election campaigns.

"You're going to get those people in line, you're going to bring this puppy to the floor of each house in the next ten days instead of shuffling it off to committees, and you're going to get an up or down vote on it without any amendments, without any conferences to rectify differences between the House and Senate versions -- because there won't be any such differences.

"It will pass or it won't pass. If it passes, I'll sign it into law and we'll move forward to the rest of our party's agenda with the wind of victory at our backs. If it doesn't pass, we'll be back in the minority in Congress, but at least we'll be a minority that knows what the hell it stands for. I'd rather fight the good fight against our opponents and lose honestly than spend the next four years wrestling in a kiddie pool full of tapioca pudding with a bunch of chiselers who claim to be with us but who are only on our side when it's easy and when their friends on K Street sign off on it."

That's what I'd do. But that's just me.

Libertarians against markets?

The Cato Institute's Daniel Griswold, writing in the Orange County Register:

From their zenith in the 1950s, labor unions have witnessed a relentless decline among non-governmental workers. Fifty years ago, about one in three Americans working in the private sector belonged to a labor union. Since then, "union density" in the private sector has declined steadily to less than 8 percent today.

Labor leaders blame the decline on union-busting corporations, years of hostile Republican rule in Washington, and a flood of imports from low-wage countries such as China, but the main reason behind the decline of private sector labor unions in recent decades is the anti-competitive nature of unions themselves.

Yes, there's an anti-competitive aspect to the labor market as currently regulated. That anti-competitive aspect was codified into law in the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, in 1935, and amended with the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.

Apart from a) actions which would be criminal regardless of who committed them, and b) government intervention into the labor market, unions are not only far from "anti-competitive" but in fact represent exactly the kind of competition one would expect to see in a free labor market.

Labor, rightly understood, is just another commodity. It's something that people create/possess and either use themselves or sell to others. Like all commodities, it is subject to the laws of supply and demand, and susceptible to cartelization, cornering, and other attempts to manipulate supply/demand to one's benefit.

Most self-described libertarians rail against the "anti-trust" laws, which purport to prevent companies from colluding, price-fixing, cornering markets, etc. Yet when workers form an organization to offer labor en bloc at a premium price through negotiated contract (as opposed to a la carte by the single worker under "at will" conditions), all of sudden they're "anti-competitive." Hogwash.

Yes, a union work force will generally demand (and get) higher wages under contract than a single worker would be able to negotiate on his own in "at will" employment. Yes, a union work force may well demand (and get) a "closed shop" agreement under which the employer will agree to hire only workers provided by the union.

By the same token, a company with a factory at which it manufactures CPUs in large quantity and of known quality will generally be able to demand (and get) a higher price for those CPUs from a computer manufacturer than will some guy who pulls up at the front gate with a trunk full of chips and a good story. As a matter of fact, there's a very good chance that the company with the factory will be able to negotiate an exclusivity deal on the provision of CPUs for that other company's computers.

In both cases, going with the larger, more reliable provider can be a good thing for the buyer.

Yes, unions demand a higher wage -- and that wage tends to keep the worker on the job for longer. Turnover in union shops is a small fraction of that in non-union shops. This means that the company isn't constantly fronting money to train new workers who aren't yet able to produce at a level which turns a profit for the company. In some cases, unions actually pre-train workers so that they have a good grasp of the job before they show up for their first day of work.

When the union shop I worked in first opened up (decades before I worked there), the company's first question was not "union or non-union?" but "which union?" They wanted their first crop of new employees to pick a union and get the contract negotiations in process ASAP. This was in a substantially non-union town, but the company was willing to pay the premium wage in order to get the benefits of low turnover, a waiting list to work there instead of having to hope it could find the workers it needed when it needed them, and contractually set workplace disciplinary terms that left neither employee nor employer in the dark and at the mercy of arbitrary and capricious middle management decisions.

The problem with organized labor in America is: Government involvement. Period. Full stop. That's it. That's all.

Wagner and Taft-Hartley, as well as various state laws, take the labor market off the market in specific ways. They require both employers and labor organizations to "bargain in good faith" when neither should be required to bargain at all ("take it or leave it" should be an acceptable position). They automatically unionize workplaces on the basis of majority elections rather than on the basis of free negotiations between employer and union. In some cases, they dictate "closed shops" in which, by law, only union workers may be employed. In other cases (the misnamed "right to work" laws) they require (again by law) that an employer may not run a "closed shop" -- but require that employer to pay union wages, give union benefits and apply union workplace disciplinary provisions to workers who don't join the union.

The state has always been involved in the labor market, and always on the anti-market side.

In the 19th century, government police and troops brutally suppressed strikes and murdered striking employers so that employers with friends in government could avoid paying market labor rates.

In the 20th century, a dog's breakfast of regulation benefited unions in some areas and aided their suppression in others -- distorting the labor market in both cases.

In areas where the political establishment favored (and was supported by) organized labor, unions ran amok, bleeding companies dry with unsupportable demands for higher wages and more benefits. The police and troops who had once shot down striking workers now stood idly by, looking the other way as union muscle broke windows, set fires and beat up "scabs" to get what they wanted. The law held the employer down while the union worked him over.

In areas where the political establishment opposed organized labor, that establishment was supported by employers who loathed the idea of paying market rates and wanted unions suppressed. Since doing so by the direct route -- call out the National Guard and crank up the machine guns -- had become socially unacceptable, they turned instead to "right to work" laws which ensured that even employers who thought a union was offering them a good deal were forbidden to negotiate exclusive contracts, and which required unions to represent, protect, and negotiate on behalf of workers who decided they didn't care to pay for that representation.

Absent government intervention on either side, unions are nothing more or less than a market phenomenon which allows workers to drive the hardest bargain for their product. Rail against Wagner and Taft-Hartley all day long, and I'm with you, brother. I don't think that either workers or employers should be regulated in the conduct of their voluntary transactions. But if you're anti-union per se, then you're also anti-market and anti-freedom. It's as simple as that.

[GMTA Update: Just noticed that Roderick Long hit substantially the same topic from substantially the same direction yesterday. His choice of foil was a short rant by Thomas DiLorenzo at LewRockwell.Com. I find it interesting that for all their feuding, which often escalates to the level of pro wrestling or Jerry Springer fare on LRC's part while the Cato folks tend to a more composed -- snobbish and dismissive, in other words -- demeanor, Cato and LRC stand united in their opposition to a free market in labor]

[Egg On Face Update: You know, I was just wrong to say that "Cato and LRC stand united in their opposition to a free market in labor." Some writers -- Skip Oliva, for example -- who publish with one or the other of those sites have at the very least acknowledged, and in some cases personally made, market arguments for the legitimacy of unions or other voluntary labor organizations. I do stand by my estimation of Griswold's claim vis a vis the "anti-competitive nature of unions themselves" as false. And it drives me up the wall to see some self-described libertarians -- at Cato, at LRC and elsewhere -- defend the valiant underdog corporations' right to collude, cartelize, etc. one day, and whine about those mean, ungrateful workers doing the same thing the day after]

Consciences of the Critics

Independent Political Report has been running and/or excerpting and/or linking to a number of reader reviews of Wayne Allyn Root's recent campaign book, The Conscience of a Libertarian: Empowering the Citizen Revolution with God, Guns, Gambling & Tax Cuts.

While there's certainly some overlap between IPR's readership and KN@PPSTER's, I figure that overlap isn't total and that it's worth providing KN@PPSTER readers an organized set of links to these reviews, which range from exceptionally laudatory to extremely negative. So, by author in alphabetical order (I'm linking to the IPR article, which isn't always the actual review):

John Hospers
Steve Kubby
Peter Orvetti
George Phillies
Eric Sundwall
Richard Winger

I've read parts of the book in (Internet-enabled) excerpt, and have participated in discussions/comments on the above reviews. If anyone wants a full review from me, feel free to endow the KN@PPSTER Chair of Wayne Allyn Root Studies: The book is item #7 on my Amazon.Com wish list. [Update, 09/10/09: My understanding is that the aforementioned chair has been endowed by Jeremy Young of Progressive Historians. Once the book arrives, I'll set aside the first available bloc of time to read and review it. That review may appear here, or at a site of Jeremy's choosing -- I'll make sure you know about it either way, of course]

Until and unless someone wants to fund a full review by this here ordained minister and Doctor of Letters, I'll stick to a very limited and positive analysis, as follows:

- According to Amazon, the book weighs in at 400 pages. It therefore presumably lays out Root's political platform/program in considerable detail. That's a good thing. The guy's running for president. Support him or oppose him, but don't claim that he hasn't put his cards on the table for full evaluation.

- Don't accuse Root of being a sore winner. He barely edged out Steve Kubby for the Libertarian Party's vice-presidential nomination in 2008, but in this book he devotes four laudatory pages to Kubby's experiences as a medical marijuana patient and political prisoner.

- Without having read the whole book I can't say whether or not Root completely "gets it" on foreign policy yet, but the excerpts I've read constitute cause for optimism on that count. In several passages, for example, he alludes to the power of the "defense" lobby and its grip on government spending.

That last bit is a big one. Linking military adventurism abroad to big government at home is key to justifying a non-interventionist foreign policy. Hell, might as well quote myself here, from the foreign policy chapter of my own forthcoming campaign book:

The first and most important thing to understand about how foreign policy drives domestic politics is this: Since at least as early as World War II, the primary function of government in the United States has been to transfer money from the pockets of the American taxpayer to the bank accounts of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the Military-Industrial Complex.

I'm not sure Wayne takes it that far in The Conscience of a Libertarian, but at the very least he's grappling with the issue.

With nearly three years to go until the Libertarian Party chooses its 2012 presidential nominee, Wayne has made his case at length and in detail. That's laudable -- it gives the party three years to weigh his positions, and it puts him in the position of having to defend those positions or, should he change his mind, explain why. For that alone, he deserves congratulations.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Majority Rule? Bollocks!

From my latest at the Center for a Stateless Society:

The indisputable conclusion [to be drawn from facts recited earlier in the column] is that because a majority of the population didn’t vote in that election, neither a single politician elected to office nor a single measure put up for public ratification can be honestly advertised as having secured majority approval.

The debatable but reasonable conclusion is that in declining to vote in the 2000 election, 52% of the population withheld consent to be bound by its outcomes or ruled by its winners.

The conventional wisdom has it otherwise: Refusal to participate in an election, we're told, constitutes consent to be bound by that election's outcomes and ruled by its winners. Silence is consent -- especially since non-voters make use of "public services" delivered to them through the whole process. Non-voting is a sign of "apathy" or "laziness," not of alienation or opposition.

This is akin to saying that by slamming my door in the face of a magazine salesman, I'm consenting to pay for subscriptions to Time, Scientific American and Playboy ... and that proof of this claim may be drawn from the fact that when those magazines begin to arrive, I read them rather than sending them back or throwing them away.

An aside: I run teasers, rather than the full columns, here at KN@PPSTER not because I can't, but because I prefer to send as many readers as possible to C4SS. You, however, are invited to run the columns in full on your own site or in your own print publication. Here's C4SS's policy:

Take our content, please!

All content on this site is available for republishing under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license.

We want you to copy and distribute this stuff as widely as possible. That's what we're here for!

You don't have to ask our permission. That's what the Creative Commons licensing is for. Everybody has permission already. Just do it.

If you want to be nice, you can include a link back to us, but the only requirement is to provide attribution to the author and C4SS.

Have at!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

New feature: The Bushevik Perp Walk Chronicles

OK, not quite. A baby step, really. But a start. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be sued for damages for ordering Muslims jailed as material witnesses in criminal cases, allegedly as a pretext to investigate their possible links to terrorism, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Friday. ... The government lacks "the power to arrest and detain or restrict American citizens for months on end ... merely because the government wishes to investigate them for possible wrongdoing," Judge Milan Smith, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, said in the majority opinion.

The march toward Nuremberg proceeds slowly, but I'll plan on covering that march's significant waypoints under this title as we reach them. I'll file the final installment the day they drag the ringleader himself off to a cell at ADX Florence or a gurney at USP Terre Haute.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Class warfare

My latest piece at C4SS is a riff on the Great Obama School Speechification Uproar of 2009.

“Public schools” means “government schools.” And where government goes, politics follows. If your children attend these schools, doubt not: They will be subjected to political indoctrination from the day they walk into kindergarten (or, these days, pre-K) to the moment they’re handed their diploma.

The tone of that indoctrination may change with the political landscape to better reflect the views of the party in power, but its substance will not.

“Public” schools serve two purposes which have long since grown to overshadow the one they’re sold on (teaching kids to read, write and do arithmetic).

The first of those purposes is to produce citizens who support, at least in its broad outlines, the existing political system. From elementary level social studies through high school history and civics, it’s all Pangloss all the time. The aim is to condition students to regard the existing system as a) inevitable and b) superior to all conceivable alternatives, and to prime them for participation in that system rather than for dissent from it.

The second purpose of the public schools is to produce workers whose skills fit the labor requirements of the political class, both the actual governmental elite and its privileged partners in crime.

Steve Newton's take on the issue is well worth reading too. It may look like we disagree, but it's more a matter of him being right as far as he goes ... and of me going quite a bit farther.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hunter on Hulu

Calls for an embed!

A couple of corrections

Wayne Allyn Root and I actually have a lot in common. We also disagree on some things. And sometimes, we disagree on what we have in common.

For example, Wayne likes to use the word "only" about himself, as in:

I am the first and only small businessman to run on a Presidential ticket in modern American political history.


The Only Home-school Dad on a Modern-Day Presidential Ticket

That last is from a new Root commentary which just landed in my inbox but doesn't appear to be up on his site yet.

Three of the things that we have in common are:

1) We're both small businessmen;

2) We both homeschool our children; and

3) We were both candidates for vice-president last year.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Traficant beams back down

When I get out I will grab a sword like Maximus Meridius Demidius and as a Gladiator I will stab people in the crotch.

And out he is. Former US Rep. James Traficant was released from prison on Wednesday after serving seven years on bribery, racketeering and tax evasion convictions.

Will he return to Congress? I wouldn't bet against him if he decides to try. He initially won his old seat from an incumbent who outspent him seven times over, got re-elected seven times without ever dipping below 68% of the vote ... and pulled 15% of the vote running from prison as an independent in 2002 after his conviction and expulsion from Congress. The WaPo story linked above says that 1,000 supporters are expected to attend his "welcome home" dinner this Sunday.

Can't say as I'm a big fan -- his populist schtick includes a lot of protectionist and Know-Nothing elements, and he's a drug warrior and porkmonger -- but there's at least one bright spot in his past legislative career: He authored legislative provisions shifting the burden of proof in civil tax cases from the taxpayer to the IRS and requiring court orders for IRS seizures of homes. Those provisions became law as part of "IRS reform" in 1998.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

A print ad created by DDB Brazil for the World Wildlife Fund (which denies approving it and condemns it) portrays the pre-9/11 New York skyline with a multitude of planes descending toward the World Trade Center towers.

Message: "The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. Conserve the planet. It's brutally powerful."

It's disgusting. It's shamelessly exploitative of the murder of thousands of human beings, and on top of that it's ineffectually so. I'd call it opportunistic if it conveyed anything resembling a coherent message. Since it doesn't, it's merely crass and meritless.

If you want to see it, knock yourself out. I'd run a Flash embed of the final scene of Pink Flamingoes before I'd plaster that garbage onto this page. It's that bad.


Those who've danced on the graves of the dead of 9/11 for lo on eight years now don't get to say that, at least not without me pointing at them and calling them out as the hypocrites they are.

Michelle Malkin, for example, who parlayed 9/11 into two best-selling volumes of Know-Nothing paranoia and a continuing career as the blogosphere darling of the "they changed the terror alert color -- everyone squat, pee and beg for more police state!" set.

Or the neo-Trots at the warfare-welfare state's journal of record, The Weekly Standard, who've been waving the shirt since long before the policies they always advocated got it good and bloodied for them.

Or, preemptively, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who tried to transmute 9/11 from a showcase of his failures as mayor into the basis of a presidential campaign with sound bytes consisting entirely of (as Joe Biden put it) "a noun, a verb, and 9/11." You just know he's casting about for a microphone right now.

Those folks don't rate to criticize this ad. Or at least they don't rate to have their criticisms taken seriously. They've spent the last eight years dining on the flesh and drinking the blood of the 9/11 dead. Anything they have to say versus WWF carries precisely the same moral stature as the argument of one cannibal contesting possession of a particularly meaty human femur with another.

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